Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Watchdog faults EPA over Pruitt security costs | Court walks back order on enforcing chemical plant rule | IG office to probe truck pollution study

Getty Images

WATCHDOG FAULTS EPA OVER PRUITT SECURITY: The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) internal watchdog says the agency didn’t have proper justification for former Administrator Scott Pruitt’s security costs, which were double his predecessor’s.

In a stinging report issued Tuesday morning, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said the agency didn’t even have a legal justification to provide a security force for Pruitt until auditors prodded agency attorneys for more than a year.

Auditors said Pruitt’s security costs were $3.5 million in his first 11 months, more than double that of Gina McCarthy, the last EPA chief under former President Barack Obama.

{mosads}The report provided some fodder for the Trump administration’s critics, who are now pointing to it to prove that Pruitt was reckless with taxpayer’s money.

“Failure to properly justify the level of protective services provided to the Administrator has allowed costs to increase from $1.6 million to $3.5 million in just 11 months,” the OIG, led by Inspector General Arthur Elkins, wrote in the report.

The report concluded it was an “undocumented decision” and “an inefficient use of agency resources.”

While the EPA routinely asserted throughout Pruitt’s tenure that the security detail was justified due to a number of threats made against the administrator, the OIG found that the EPA never conducted a true threat analysis to determine the need for increased security.

Back story (How could we forget?): Pruitt resigned from the EPA in July, after a rocky 16-month tenure laced with five months of controversy over his compliance with ethics rules and over spending of taxpayer money. His ballooning security costs, including his decision to have unprecedented 24/7 security protection, were central to the scandals.

EPA’s defense: In its own statement, the EPA defended its decisions regarding Pruitt’s security.

“Because persons intending harm often do not make threats, EPA believes — based on DOJ’s report, ‘Protective Intelligence & Threat Assessment Investigations,’ Secret Service practices and real-life scenarios such as the recent attack on the Republican Congressional baseball team and the shooting of Representative [Gabrielle] Giffords [D-Ariz.] — that a threat analysis cannot be the sole source of information used to determine if protective services are provided or the level of protection,” EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said in a statement.

“Accordingly, there is no support for the OIG’s insinuation that expenditures for protective services carried out before a threat analysis was conducted were not justified.”

Read more.

To read the actual OIG report, click here.


Why it matters: Obviously, with Pruitt gone, the impact of Tuesday’s report is much less than what it would have been had he still be at the EPA’s helm.

Nonetheless, Democrats and other opponents of Trump are framing it as a condemnation not just of Pruitt, but the administration. They’re going to want proof that these missteps are in the past.

What’s next: As the report noted, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler chose early on in his tenure to abandon the 24-7 security, instead just having a door-to-door detail.

But while the security issue has been put to rest, the OIG has a handful of other Pruitt probes ongoing that could shed more light into his tumultuous tenure.


Happy Tuesday! And welcome back from the three-day weekend. Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill’s roundup of the latest energy and environment news.

Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com, and Miranda Green, mgreen@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama, @mirandacgreen, @thehill. CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter.


COURT WON’T FORCE EPA TO IMMEDIATELY IMPLEMENT CHEMICAL RULE: A federal court on Tuesday walked back its previous order that sought to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to immediately start enforcing a major Obama administration regulation on the safety of chemical plants and similar facilities.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its original order on Friday, after environmental groups and Democratic state attorneys general asked the judges to skip the traditional 52-day waiting period to enforce their Aug. 17 ruling. The ruling found that the Trump administration improperly delayed the Obama-era regulation.

But Tuesday afternoon the judges reversed that order, saying it had been made “inadvertently.” The Aug. 17 decision is still in place, but it will not take effect until Oct. 8.

Judges Judith Rogers and Robert Wilkins did not explain their brief order Friday accepting the litigants’ arguments. In the Tuesday notice rescinding Friday’s order, the judges asked the various parties in the litigation to submit briefs on whether or not to immediately enforce the decision.

Read more.


WATCHDOG TO PROBE EPA TRUCK POLLUTION STUDY: The EPA’s OIG said it’s launched a probe into a 2017 EPA study of “glider” trucks, heavy-duty trucks that have new bodies and old engines that don’t comply with current pollution standards.

The audit responds to requests from numerous House Republicans, including Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who questioned whether the study complied with scientific standards.

“As part of this audit, the OIG will examine the selection, acquisition and testing of glider vehicles at the EPA’s National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory, as well as the EPA’s planning for this testing.”

The research found that glider trucks emit as much as 40 times more key pollutants than new vehicles.

It came as the Trump administration sought to overturn an Obama administration regulation that would have limited glider manufacturers to selling 300 trucks per year, in an effort to crack down on a loophole they enjoy.

Emails obtained by Smith and others show that EPA employees worked with officials from Volvo Trucks to obtain the gliders for the study. Opponents of the study have accused the EPA employees of trying to sabotage the deregulation and colluding with Volvo — which wants to limit glider sales — to do so.

Read the OIG notice here.



The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will meet to vote on a number of bills and nominees, including some fisheries legislation and Kelvin Droegemeier, Trump’s nominee to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the retiring chairman of the House Science Committee, will sit down for a conversation at the National Press Club.



Join us Thursday, Sept. 6, for “Partnerships & Progress: Driving Climate Solutions,” featuring Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Editor in Chief Bob Cusack will sit down with the headliners to discuss how the public and private sectors can balance environmental progress with healthy economic growth. RSVP Here.



Jeffrey Skilling, the convicted former CEO of Enron, has been freed from prison and moved to a halfway house, Reuters reports.

Michael Gove, the United Kingdom’s secretary of state for environment, acted Tuesday to block oil drilling at a spot in the Surrey Hills in southeast England, The Guardian reports.

Tropical Storm Gordon forced evacuations of 54 oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, shutting in more than 9 percent of the Gulf’s production, Nola.com reports.



Check out Tuesday’s stories …

-Noted climate skeptic to advise Trump on emerging technologies

-Zinke’s former energy counselor at Interior takes job with offshore oil company

-Court walks back order, won’t immediately require EPA to enforce chemical plant safety rule

-EPA failed to properly justify Pruitt security costs, watchdog says

-Trump officials reject environmental concerns over Dakota Access pipeline

Tags Barack Obama Brian Fitzpatrick Carbon EPA Gina McCarthy Lamar Smith Scott Pruitt Sheldon Whitehouse

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video